Panolian Editorial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sheriff Bright

Panola benefited from late sheriff’s skills in management

Sheriff Hugh Wayne “Shot” Bright kept his campaign promises, putting more deputies and patrol cars on Panola County’s roads, cleaning up litter and stopping most of the illegal dumping along Panola’s roadsides. Along the way he also had to deal with a fractured sheriff’s department, jail expansion, and keeping an inmate workforce busy doing everything from construction, building and grounds maintenance to collecting garbage for the county’s sanitation department, saving the county and its municipalities hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor charges along the way.

Selling the jail’s recent expansion was made easier by the pristine condition in which the facility was maintained from its original use when Bright was head jailer through his tenure as sheriff. The architect noted in 2006 that the jail was in as good condition as it was when it was built 10 years earlier.

Among the many challenges Sheriff Bright faced when he took office in 2005 was repairing the schisms that had developed in the sheriff’s department during a long campaign to fill the unexpired term of the late David Bryan. The jockeying among deputies that had been going on behind the scenes months before Bryan died turned into a horse race among former deputies with the special election that came later that year. Those deputies not candidates themselves were aligned with those who were and most were against Bright, who surfaced early as the front runner.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

One of Bright’s first actions upon taking office was meeting with sheriff’s department personnel and telling them that he needed them and that they were welcome to keep their jobs. He later even reached out individually to the one deputy who had walked out of that meeting, convincing the deputy to come back.

Within days, deputies who had expressed their reservations about Bright during the campaign were singing his praises.

Bright’s skills at behind-the-scenes solutions to problems also surfaced when Como’s budget problems arose there in 2007, threatening the municipality’s solvency. Among solutions considered was dissolving the police department entirely and relying on the sheriff’s department for law enforcement in the town.

“Don’t do that, you need your police department,” Bright told Como town officials and citizens during meetings that occasionally became fractious with the frustrations when solutions seemed few and distant. Bright’s behind-the-scenes solution was to allow his deputies to also serve as Como policemen, even as police chief.

The deputies were certified law enforcement officers — relieving the town of the burden of paying for certification training. They continue to work part time in Como in addition to their full-time job as deputies in what became a win-win situation.

Following the recent administration change in Crenshaw this summer, Bright allowed his deputies to work part time in that police department which also suffered from high turnover among personnel and lack of proper funding and equipment.

Bright’s administrative skills defied logic as he bypassed formal education while beating his own path to a position of prominence in the county where his friends will tell you he raised himself. His departure shocked not some, but all.

Despite political affiliations and loyalties, Hugh Wayne “Shot” Bright’s absence will have a significant effect on Panola County, just as his presence did.